Movie Review ~ Rebuilding Paradise


The Facts
:

Synopsis: A moving story of resilience in the face of tragedy, as the community of Paradise, California, a town in the Sierra Nevada foothills, ravaged by disaster comes together to recover what was lost in the devastating wildfires in 2018 and begin the important task of rebuilding.

Director: Ron Howard

Rated: PG-13

Running Length: 95 minutes

TMMM Score: (6.5/10)

Review: As anyone that’s gone through a tragedy like a death of a loved one can tell you, the hardest part is often not while you are in the immediate stages of grief.  Yes, those first hours, days, weeks, when you’re living in the shock of the loss is painful and puts you through every kind of emotional ringer there is…but that’s just one part of the process.  The second wave comes when all those people that came to your side when the tragedy occurred go back to their lives and continue on where they left off.  You’re left broken and needing to find your way in a new normal and everyone else goes forward…seemingly unchanged in your eyes.

It can also be that way for major events like national disasters.  Hurricanes, floods, riots, school shootings, fires, you name it.  We watch these monumentally life-altering occurrences happen, often from the peacefulness of a comfortable safe distance, and send our prayers and good thoughts along with everyone else.   The news media covers the destruction and its immediate aftermath but rarely do they stick around to show what really happens to the individuals and communities at large that are left picking up the pieces of a life shattered.  New cycles of news take over and televisions are changed to new channels while webpages are updated with the latest celebrity gossip.

On November 8, 2018, the town of Paradise was overcome by the raging wildfire that resulted from faulty electrical work from power company PG&E (anyone familiar with Erin Brockovich should remember that infamous corporate magnate) and much of the community was lost.  A total of 85 people were killed, 50,000 residents were displaced, 100,000 acres of land were destroyed, and 18,000 structures in a town that had existed over a century were wiped out.  This was all broadcast for the world to see and the footage is as horrifying to watch today as it was two years ago.  Also paying attention was Hollywood director Ron Howard (Parenthood) who had a family connection to the town.

Partnering with his old friend producer Brian Grazer and National Geographic Documentaries, Howard had camera crews go into the town and pick-up where the news crews left off, capturing the efforts by the town to get back on its feet.  The resulting documentary Rebuilding Paradise is a strong, if occasionally rote and repetitive, testament to the strength of spirit represented in the town. What Howard and his crew captured over the course of a year isn’t your standard fix-all approach with an end result of complete reparation by the time the credits roll.   Instead you see the ups and downs of the townspeople as they work through their own personal turmoil and a series of frustrating roadblocks preventing them from returning to the town they loved.

If I’m being honest, it took a while to find a groove with the documentary and I wasn’t quite sure why.  The opening ten minutes are fairly spectacular viewing, even if they depict the terrifying real life Camp Fire that engulfed the city and destroyed the lives of its residents.  It’s no surprise the director of Backdraft was able to cut this sequence together to be an effective and breathless opener…but it sets a strange edge at the beginning the rest of the documentary struggles to contend with for the remainder.  Despite the occasional personal story that hit a chord (no spoilers but some truly unexpected events happen during the time the cameras filmed) the subjects chosen to be focal points don’t quite grab you.  Even the people being followed don’t seem to always like having someone tagging along with them – it’s an awkwardness that never goes away.

What I do applaud the documentary for (as well as Howard and the producers) is that is shines a light not just on the aftermath of this devastating event but on the importance of judicial follow-up on failure and exposing companies for less than honest dealings.  I imagine an entire documentary could be compiled on the PG&E section of the film alone, but Howard wisely keeps the heavier government business out of the mix and gets back to the more personal stories that have a greater impact on Rebuilding Paradise.  Though it starts to feel ever so padded as it comes up on the 90 minute mark, there’s enough goodwill built by the filmmakers to keep you engaged and eventually more than a little enraged when you realize how all of this could have possibly been avoided.

Movie Review ~ She Dies Tomorrow


The Facts
:

Synopsis: A woman’s conviction that she will die tomorrow spreads like a contagion through a town.

Stars: Kate Lyn Sheil, Jane Adams, Kentucker Audley, Katie Aselton, Chris Messina, Tunde Adebimpe, Jennifer Kim, Olivia Taylor Dudley, Michelle Rodriguez, Josh Lucas, Adam Wingard

Director: Amy Seimetz

Rated: R

Running Length: 84 minutes

TMMM Score: (1/10)

Review:  In theater, there are a number of urban legends about productions or performances that were so bad the audience began to turn on the actors onstage.  There is the long-held rumor (that I don’t quite believe) of the matinee crowd attempting to sing above Sheena Easton in a Broadway production of Man of La Mancha to overcome her off key warbling.  The granddaddy of them all, though, is the tale meant to send a shiver down the spine of every theater nerd that dared overact and provide hearty laughter to everyone else.  Yes, it’s the one revolving around a troupe’s noble effort in a staging of The Diary of Anne Frank that had such poor acting it had one fed-up patron proclaim loudly “They’re in the attic!!!”

I couldn’t help but think of that particular anecdote shortly after She Dies Tomorrow began…because it’s around that time I blurted out “Is it tomorrow yet?” and then spent the next 75 minutes waiting for that moment to arrive.  Though it boasts a nifty poster and an appealing premise that appears tailor-made to the self-contained uncertainty we find ourselves living in, this incessantly grating bit of delirium shouldn’t have waited to put anyone (least of all us , the viewers) out of its misery.  Thus, it ends up being exactly the kind of messy dreck that gives indie films good street cred by those that seek out obscure titles to fawn over but is a complete dud for anyone else.

Though she’s recently moved into a new apartment and appears to have a semblance of a decent life, Amy (Kate Lyn Sheil, You’re Next) thinks she’s going to die tomorrow.  That’s it…that’s basically the entire premise of the movie that gets repeated over and over again within actress turned writer/director Amy Seimetz’s (2019’s Pet Sematary) languid script.  Actually, there’s a supposed bit of intrigue as to how Amy’s belief of her impending doom infects everyone she comes in contact with and how they in turn spread that paranoia onward.  Her friend (Jane Adams, Poltergeist, a kooky bright spot at times) passes it to her brother (Chris Messina, Cake), his wife (Kate Aselton, Bombshell), and their friends (Tunde Adebimpe, Marriage Story and Jennifer Kim, Spider-Man: Homecoming) before handing it over to a few other familiar faces that must have owed Seimetz a favor.  How this extended circle deals copes with their purported demise runs the gamut from the cruel to the criminal — not the kind of material that’s exciting to watch or that gives the usually talented performers much to work with.

It all comes back to Amy, though, and while Seimetz attempts to give an origin story to the fear that drives Amy to panic it’s covered in so much heavy-handed missteps in eye-crossing cinematography drowned out by an often ear-plugging score that you can barely pay attention.  So whatever larger message Seimetz is trying to convey gets lost amidst a clamor of her own making.  The same goes for the performances which range from the zombified (Sheil) to the whacked-out (Michelle Rodriguez, Widows) and in the end it’s Adams who likely comes out the best because the entire utterly bizarre film plays right into her wheelhouse of strange characters moving through this earthly plane.  Reportedly Seimetz used her salary from Pet Sematary to fund this picture and you wonder if the money wouldn’t have been better spent on an actual cemetery for pets instead of this eye-rolling folderol.

I can already see this being heralded a triumph by those bored on the straight-forward offerings available these past few months, but I saw no real artistry on display, unfortunately.  I felt like I should have responded differently but whatever takeaway I was meant to be left with vanishes among the punishing noise.  Even looking at the movie as metaphor for anxiety or grappling with the inner monologue of one’s own mortality lets the film off a hook it deserves to be hitched to.  So it’s not as if the intent wasn’t clear…it’s the execution that left me completely at odds with nearly everything else the film brought to the table, rendering it unwatchable in my book.  Its impenetrable notions of gloom and doom may send you scrambling toward your cure-all for the blues but it makes you wonder…when life is already so tenuous, why add more inexplicable horror to your plate if you don’t have to?  She Dies Tomorrow but pick something else today.